Forty years ago, Carol Weathersby led the first flag corps onto the field at Tiger Stadium to march with the band at halftime.
The women wore white skirt outfits with go-go boots, and carried metal flag poles that were too heavy to do much with.
On Saturday, Carol Weathersby Larsen will join alumni members of the group — now called the LSU Tiger Band Colorguard — to celebrate the 40th anniversary. The routines are a bit more complex, but Larsen, now an assistant dean with the LSU College of Music & Dramatic Arts, confided she has been practicing with an umbrella in her office.
The upcoming weekend includes various activities for alums: a Friday luncheon, practice and cocktail party, then a performance Saturday during the LSU vs. Kentucky football game. The reunion is being held in conjunction with the 2011 Alumni Band Weekend.
Larsen noted that several hundred women over the years have had a place on the flag line. More than 100 have signed up to take part in the performance.
“This is an awesome recognition,” she said. “It’s really the first time the Colorguard has been recognized for service.”
Larsen shared how the flag line got its start.?
In 1970, the Tiger Band was recognized with the “All-American College TV Band” award, Larsen said.
“The result was a lot more kids, musicians, who wanted to be in the band,” Larsen said.
Band uniforms were expensive, though, and the Athletic Department was unwilling to buy more, Larsen said.
Then-Director of Bands Bill Swor came up with a creative solution to put more musicians on the field at halftime — by creating a flag corps.
The original 12 female members were chosen from the band’s existing membership, meaning they had all previously marched with instruments.
“That freed up that many more spots for musicians for the core of the band,” Larsen said.
Flag corps were just becoming popular among drum and bugle corps, Larsen said, and to her knowledge, the flags weren’t being twirled or manipulated in any way.
Swor chose tall metal flag poles with spiked tips. The uniforms contained white leather straps that culminated into a cup to support the weight of the pole, Larsen said.
Each girl carried a different flag for each of the 10 schools in the Southeastern Conference, plus two girls carried white flags.
Larsen was named the captain and had the task of coming up with routines.
“What we did with those flags was very minimal as compared to what they do now,” she said, noting that Swor prohibited the flags from touching the ground at any point.
Today’s Colorguard is made up of 30 or so young women who provide a visual interpretation of the band’s music by twirling, and even tossing, their flags.
Kathryn Wilken, the current assistant captain, said she has had the opportunity to meet many former Colorguard members during rehearsals held this summer in preparation for the Oct. 1 performance.
“It’s fun to watch them interact with one another after being apart for so long,” Wilken said. “The stories that they tell are hilarious and astounding.”
Julie Metz, a member of the flag line from 1979-1981, recalled lining up for the band’s pregame salute for the first time.
“I stood at attention with the entire band waiting for the signal to step off, and the silence that occurred at that moment on the field and throughout the stadium was haunting,” Metz said. “But the roar and chill that erupted when that first note was played was indescribable. I still have that same feeling today when I perform pre-game for band reunion.”
Katherine Jensen Boccaccio, a flag line member from 1978 to 1981, said she had no idea when she entered LSU that she would become a member of the flag line. She had auditioned and earned a spot in Tiger Band playing flute.
Boccaccio said then-Director of Bands Nick Rouse had heard that she was a drum majorette at Mansfield High School and approached her about joining the flag team.
Donna Britt was the captain, Boccaccio said, and schooled her really quickly on the flag.
“From her, each of us learned to ‘Snaaaaapppppp’ our flags and, under her, the line became an integral part of the marching band,” Boccaccio said.
Boccaccio said her most vivid memory was possibly her first halftime performance in September 1978.
“We lined up on the sideline, came to attention — scared out of our minds — and the announcer’s voice boomed out, ‘Folks, we have a record attendance at tonight’s game!’ Back then, that would have been around 78,000,” Boccaccio said. “I looked at the girls on either side of me and said, ‘Is it too late to quit?’”
Another game that stands out in her mind is when LSU played Alabama at home in 1979. It was a torrential downpour from kickoff to the final 0-3 score, she said.
At halftime, the girls were in a formation that had them lined up facing each other along the 50-yard line. They laid flat on their backs, sat up and tossed their flags across the yard line to the facing girl. In Boccaccio’s case, she was tossing her flag to her twin sister, Liz.
“When we lay down, the ruts in the field were so deep, and so full of muddy water, that the water ran into the backs of our uniforms and came out our skirts when we stood up,” she said. “What a mess, but we laughed all the way to the sideline.”
Boccaccio is now 51, but she said Tiger Stadium is still her second home.
“Coming back for this reunion, which honors an auxiliary group that has always stood second to the Golden Girls and yet was the most visible unit on the field, is incredibly special,” she said. “I look at the ‘girls’ with whom I shared everything — sweat and laughter and tears — for four years, and they still feel like my sisters. That will never change.”